When in Singapore, Glam it Up!
The Lion City’s historic Muslim enclave roars with the energy of a myriad different cultures
Words & Photos: Kankanit Wichiantanon
In many culinary traditions across Asia, tossing various spices together in sizzling fat (be it oil or ghee) is the way to unlock their full aroma. Similarly, Kampong Glam’s melting pot of cultures is infused with the best that its different communities have to offer.
Singapore’s Muslim enclave is a blend of Islamic communities from different countries and cultures that bursts with a unique and vibrant flavour. The Arab-Malay neighbourhood boasts a myriad of businesses worthy of a visit – restuarants, cafés, bars and shophouses that are packed full of handicrafts, fabrics, fragrances, rugs, and ceramics, to name a few. Foodies with a taste for good Middle Eastern, Malay and/or Indian food will find the vast array of restaurants and cafés here a delight … I did!
During my two trips to the Lion City, I found myself drawn to Kampong Glam more than any other, visiting it daily. The buildings and people exude a warmth and gentleness that kept me coming back for more. As well as aromas from restaurants, the air is thick with a sweet and spicy perfume from fragrance shops that I wish I could bottle.
Although the spotlight is on Arab Street and Haji Lane, nooks and crannies behind the scenes glimmer with interesting hangouts waiting to be explored.
Nestled in the heart of Kampong Glam is the renowned Singapore attraction of Masjid Sultan or Sultan Mosque. This national monument,built in the early 19th century by Sultan Hussein and reconstructed in the 1920s to serve the growing Muslim population, holds huge cultural significance for Muslims in the city-state.
Along with its status as a Muslim enclave, Kampong Glam is also a hub for some of the coolest happenings in town. Turkish, Lebanese, Moroccan, Malay and Indian culinary delights vie for your attention with newer Italian, Mexican, French, Swedish and Korean arrivals.
With its abundance of offering and prime location just a stone’s thrown from must-visit attractions like the Merlion, Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands, this area has become a must-visit neighbourhood for locals and tourists alike.
My mission for my latest five-day visit was to explore the depths of Kampong Glam and cram as many restuarants, cafés and shops into my intenerary as possible.
By day three, I had established a solid routine: morning coffee at Earlybird or Arabica followed by a Murtabak (stuffed folded flatbread) feast at my absolute favourite restaurant, Zam Zam, and a mini catch-up with the friendly cooks who make the place so welcoming.
Lunch and dinner plans varied, depending on my mood and cravings, but I found it tough to resist returning to Islamic Restaurant for the opulent interior and scrumptious Mutton Biryami, or the Symmetry for its Eggs Benedict generously sprinkled with maple-glazed bacon bits.
As sunset approached, I would stroll leisurely along Haji Lane, lined with bars, cafés and shops with unique concepts, like Solace Studios (a Korean selfie studio), Musicology Records (a record shop), Vintagewknd (retro clothing store), The French American Bakery, Madd Pizza, Black Sheep & Co Bar an dType8ar, where you can take a typewriting class.
For art lovers, the streets of Kampong Glam serve as an outdoor gallery. Expect to see cool artwork painted on buildings or hanging in unexpected places – like by the trash bins in backstreets.
Whether you wanna indulge in delectable offerings, get caffeinated, shop, or just wander around appreciating street art, Kampong Glam has got you covered.